By Alexander Bolton - 11-09-16 09:40 AM EST
Republicans who kept their distance from Donald Trump all year are starting to warm up and reach out to him after he pulled off the biggest presidential upset in decades.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking member of the leadership who last month called on Trump to withdraw from the race, on Wednesday morning offered his congratulations to the victorious candidate.
"Congratulations to President-elect Trump for his election to serve as president of this great country," Thune said in a statement. "The Republican-led Senate is committed to continuing the work we began two years ago to make government more effective and accountable."
He said he and his GOP colleagues look forward to working with Trump to "address the critical issues facing our country."
The biggest immediate opportunities standing before Republicans is a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code that would lower individual and corporate rates and repeal of ObamaCare, two massive undertakings that seemed far-fetched only a few days ago.
With Trump taking over the White House next month and unified GOP control of both chambers of Congress, Republicans are beginning to sense that big legislative initiatives may be possible and are scrambling to get on board with the president-elect.
A month ago, Thune called on Trump to drop out of the race and for his running mate Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, to assume the nomination.
GOP strategists at the time said Thune's statement, delivered on Twitter, gave a green light to Senate Republican candidates to withdraw their endorsements of Trump.
Eventually, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced they could no longer support Trump.
But GOP skeptics are changing their tune after Trumped shocked the political establishment and defied pollsters' predictions by handily defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who led the Never Trump movement from the Senate, announced Wednesday morning, "Starting today, I will do everything in my power to hold the president to his promises: to fight for an ethics reform package that upends cronyism and enacts term limits; to lead on repealing and replacing ObamaCare; and to nominate judges who reject law-making by unelected courts."
Sasse earlier this year compared Trump's candidacy - as well as Clinton's - to a dumpster fire.
Sasse said Trump's "relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation."
On Wednesday, Sasse conceded that American voters had "demanded disruption" on Election Day.
It was part of a mad dash by dissident Republicans who refused to back Trump over Clinton to make amends with the president elect.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who led anti-Trump sentiment for most of the year, tweeted, "Best wishes for our duly elected president: May his victory speech be his guide and preserving the Republic his aim."
Romney, who lost to President Obama in the 2012 election, denounced Trump in a high-profile speech in March, warning fellow Republicans that nominating him could wreck the party.
"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University," he warned. "He's playing the members of the American public for suckers."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also offered his congratulations.
"As our president, Columba and I will pray for you in the days and months to come," he said via Twitter, referring to his wife, who is of Mexican heritage and was the target of Trump's barbs during the primary.
Bush was Trump's bitter rival in the primary and later refused to back him over Clinton despite pledging to do so earlier - as did all GOP presidential candidates.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), meanwhile, congratulated Trump Wednesday morning on his victory and pledged to work with him.
"My hope is that President-elect Trump will focus on issues that unite us and that together we can usher in an era of accomplishment," she said. "I pledge to work with him in that effort."
In August, Collins announced that she could not support Trump and explained in a Washington Post op-ed, "Trump does not reflect historical Republican values nor the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in our country.
And Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), who earlier this year told Capitol reporters that he would no longer field questions about Trump because he viewed them as distracting, praised his victory Wednesday as "a resounding message" from voters that they're ready for change.
"The threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism is real and growing, as Texans were reminded just this week," Cornyn said. "ObamaCare continues to implode as Texas families face higher costs and fewer choices for coverage."